Brown urges talks to speed Afghan retreat

Author: By Andrew Grice, Political Editor

In his annual foreign affairs address at Guildhall, the Prime Minister
insisted that real progress was being made in the struggle against
al-Qa’ida. He said the London meeting should “identify a process for
transferring [security] district by district” to the Afghan army and
police ? if possible, from next year. Aides insisted he was talking about “a
horizon and success rather than an exit strategy”.

The move marks Mr Brown’s latest attempt to show leadership on Afghanistan as
public support for the war slides and British political and military leaders
express concern privately about a “vacuum”, while Barack Obama
decides whether to dispatch more troops to the US-led operation. A ComRes
poll for The Independent on Sunday showed that almost three-quarters of
voters (71 per cent) want British troops withdrawn from Afghanistan within a
year.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, would be invited to the London conference,
along with military chiefs, foreign ministers and diplomats from the
countries taking part in the mission in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister told his City of London audience at the Lord Mayor’s
Banquet that since January last year, seven of the top dozen figures in
al-Qa’ida had been killed. “More has been planned and enacted with
greater success in this one year to disable al-Qa’ida than in any year since
the original invasion in 2001,” he said.

He revealed: “Our security services report that there is now an
opportunity to inflict significant and long-lasting damage to al-Qa’ida. We
understand the reality of the danger and the nature of the consequences if
we do not succeed: we will never forget the fatal al-Qa’ida-led attacks in
London on 7 July 2005.”

Al-Qa’ida had a recruitment network across Africa, the Middle East, Western
Europe and in the UK, Mr Brown said. Since 2001, almost 200 people had been
convicted of terrorist or terrorist-related offences in Britain. “To
those who say this threat is not real, I ask them to consider that almost
half of those convicted pleaded guilty,” he added.

He pledged: “Vigilance in defence of national security will never be
sacrificed to expediency. Necessary resolution will never succumb to
appeasement. The greater international good will never be subordinated to
the mood of the passing moment.

“So I vigorously defend our action in Afghanistan and Pakistan because
al-Qa’ida is today the biggest source of threat to our national security and
to the security of people’s lives in Britain.

“We are in Afghanistan because we judge that if the Taliban regained
power al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups would once more have an
environment in which they could operate. We are there because action in
Afghanistan is not an alternative to action in Pakistan, but an inseparable
support to it.”

Mr Brown warned Iran that time was running out for it to comply with
international demands for it to engage in talks on its nuclear weapons
programme. Repeating President Obama’s deadline of the end of the year, he
said: “If Iran does not reconsider, then the United Nations, the EU and
individual countries must impose tougher sanctions”.

The Prime Minister issued a stark warning that Britain would be at the margins
rather than the centre of the world stage if David Cameron becomes Prime
Minister because of the Conservative Party’s hostility to the European Union.

Accusing the Tory approach of being unpatriotic and shortsighted, Mr Brown
said Britain must play a full part in institutions like the EU to shape a
new world order and could not afford to be isolationist. “In a world
where the historic challenges we face are so profoundly global, this view
has never been more dangerous and threatening to the security and prosperity
of our country,” he argued.

Mr Brown added: “Our foreign policy must be both patriotic and
internationalist: a foreign policy that recognises and exploits Britain’s
unique strengths, and defends Britain’s national interests strongly ? not by
retreating into isolation but by advancing in international co-operation.

“I believe that Britain can inspire the world. I believe that Britain can
challenge the world. But most importantly of all I believe that Britain can
and must play its full part in changing the world.”

Troops in Afghanistan Who?s there

UK: 9,000 TROOPS Britain is sending 500 new troops to Helmand
imminently, with Gordon Brown estimating that Nato countries other than the
US will provide 5,000 in total. He has spoken tentatively of withdrawal when
Afghan forces can step up.

US: 65,000 Barack Obama has promised that his deliberations on the
Afghan strategy will soon come to an end, with an increase of 30,000 the
most likely end result of lengthy Washington wranglings.

SPAIN: 4,000 In the face of popular opposition, the Spanish government
recently announced 200 reinforcements to join its contingent. But Defence
Minister Carme Chacon has said she hopes to see a full withdrawal within
five years

POLAND: 2,025 Three quarters of the Polish public want an immediate
withdrawal from the country?s role in some of the toughest fighting in
Afghanistan. But the government will not consider a withdrawal unless as
part of a broader Nato rethink.

NETHERLANDS: 2,160 The Dutch approach, focused on development and
civilian protection rather than fighting, has been seen as a success. The
country?s parliament is nevertheless debating a full withdrawal next year.

ITALY: 2,795 After six Italian paratroopers died in a car bombing in
September, the government’s already fragile appetite for the conflict
reduced further. A shaken Silvio Berlusconi spoke of withdrawal, but gave no
timeline.

GERMANY: 4,245 The third biggest contributor after the UK and US,
Germany has promised an additional 120 troops in January for its deployment
in Kunduz. But with attacks increasing in the previously quiet region, on
Sunday Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle mooted a withdrawal.

FRANCE: 3,070 Facing concerted public opposition, Nicolas Sarkozy has
now promised not to increase French troop numbers. The Socialist opposition
advocates withdrawal, and subjected Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to
fierce questioning in parliament yesterday.

CANADA: 2,830 Since making a major commitment of forces in 2006, Prime
Minister Stephen Harper has faced considerable public opposition to the
deployment. The government is expected to end the military mission by 2011,
but some troops may remain in support roles.

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